by David Ly Khim
“If you want anything just ask for it, old sport.” – Gatsby, The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Imagine this, you could have anything you want–all you have to do is ask. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?
When attempting to achieve a goal or complete a task–small or large–you will often find that you may not have all the necessary tools or skills required to succeed. In which case, you have two options, obtain those tools and learn those skills on your own or ask for help.
Growing up, I often went with the former. I was scared of being told “no.” I didn’t want to be rejected. I was full of pride. I believed I could do it all on my own. Ironically, I was always willing to provide help to others, yet hardly anyone asked me for help.
I’ve noticed that this is a situation we commonly find ourselves in. We’re more than willing to provide help, yet far less inclined to request it.
Asking for help is necessary
You will run into situations when you will find yourself unequipped to handle the situation. It is possible to develop multiple skills enough to be useful, but that takes a lot of time. This is an issue because when it comes to getting things done, deadlines are usually involved. You may not always have enough time to obtain the necessary tools or skills on your own.
Time and efficiency are not the only reasons to ask for help, though. According to Mike Robbins from the Huffington Post, those requests for help “can create a true sense of support and empowerment in our lives and in our relationships.” Asking for help can develop friendships in which there is knowledge of a mutual support for one another.
It is just a matter of reminding ourselves that it’s not only okay but essential to ask for help.
I’ve personally felt more connected to someone through providing help and being helped. It’s comforting to know that there is someone you can depend on who can also depend on you. It’s a two way street and both parties gain something out of the situation.
Why is it so difficult to ask for help?
Francis Flynn, a Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, conducted research on the concept of asking for help.
In one of the experiments conducted by Flynn, a group of volunteers were given the task of getting 5 people to fill out a survey. The volunteers were asked how many people they expected to approach before getting 5 surveys completed. The general consensus was about 20 or 21 people.
They only had to approach 10 people. Every other person they approached was willing to fill out a survey.
In another experiment, volunteers had to get 3 strangers to agree to lend them their phone to make a call. Volunteers expected to approach 10 people before meeting the quota. In reality, the average number of people they approached was only 6.
The recurring theme was a 2-to-1 ratio. The actual number of people the volunteers had to approach in order to meet the quota was half of what they predicted. As demonstrated by Flynn’s research, we often underestimate the number of people who are willing to “yes” to helping us.
Many people don’t mind helping. Just ask.
Another roadblock to asking for help is pride. You may believe that you can do everything on your own.
I made that same mistake.
I used to believe that if I wanted something done right, I had to do it myself. I didn’t want to lose control by giving a portion of it away to someone else. It was difficult for me to depend on other people. This destructive attitude became more intense when I was stressed or frustrated.
According to an article in the New York Times, “Why Is Asking for Help So Difficult?” by Alina Tugend, we fear requesting assistance because we don’t want to seem “needy, weak, or incompetent” and we don’t want to be a “bother.”
I’ve recently experienced one of the lowest of lows in my life–you could say I was depressed–yet I was hesitant to call a close friend to talk to. I did end up making the call. After breaking down about my situation, I apologized profusely.
“I’m sorry I’m wasting up your time. You have better things to do. I’m sorry to be a bother.”
I’m getting better at it, but my reaction was generally the same no matter how often I was told that my friends would always be there for me for anything.
The irony of our situations is that we overestimate the amount of people seeking help. We expect people to feel comfortable asking for help.
Your boss have have an open door policy and you probably tell your friends to let you know if they need help. But how comfortable do you feel going to your boss about an issue? How often do your friends let you know when they need help?
The fact is, your friends, family, peers, co-workers, professors, bosses–and even strangers–don’t mind helping you. They don’t mind the least bit. It is highly probable that they actually want to help. You just need to ask.
The worst that can happen is we receive a “no.” In which case, ask another person!
My personal experience asking for help
As a recent college graduate, I’ve been on the hunt for a job. This meant polishing up my resumé, writing cover letters, searching CraigsList for jobs, looking up and researching companies to apply for, learning interview techniques, and preparing answers to generic interview questions. I was initially stubborn. I can do this on my own, I thought. Perhaps you can relate.
I had a friend who had been through all of this before. She was genuinely concerned with my situation and saw how stressed I was. I could have easily turned to her for help–she even asked if I’d like her help. I declined. I can learn on my own.
It was a poor decision.
When you find yourself in a tough spot, don’t be afraid to ask for help. You’ll save a lot of time and frustration. Trust me on this one.
After a month, I finally swallowed my pride and asked my friend for help. She looked over my resumé and helped me write my cover letters. She encouraged me to continue applying for jobs. I was much less stressed.
Things are easier to deal with when you have something there to help you.
Likewise, you are surrounded by people who are willing to help you.
4 Tips to Getting What You Want
1. Ask for help directly–ask in person–not over the phone or via email. It is much more effective to ask for help directly because it’s much more personal than a phone call, text, or email.
2. Make the request short and specific. Be straightforward with your request. Don’t beat around the bush or be confusing. You may get nervous when asking for help and you may even try to downplay the cost of the favor by not asking bluntly. If you need a transition or it makes you more comfortable, you can start with “Can you do me a favor?”
Bad: Can you help me move?
Good: Can you do me a favor? (*Sure*) Would you please help me move my big furniture out tomorrow?
Bad: Hey, so I’ve been looking for a job and haven’t been able to get any interviews and I’m getting really frustrated. So I was wondering, since you have a job, could help me get one, please?
Good: Would you please look over my resumé and cover letter and give me some feedback?
Some people tend to hint at needing help.
Person who needs help: Oh man, I’m so tired from moving. I’m just so frustrated. If only I could get some help.
Other person: Why don’t you hire some people to help out?
Person who needs help: Oh that’s too expensive. It’s okay I’ll just tough it out by myself.
Other person: Well, okay then.
3. Make the request without attachment. A request can be accepted or declined without any consequence. Don’t be upset if the answer is no. If you’re upset, you weren’t really making a request–you were making more of a demand. If we don’t attach ourselves to the response, “we have more freedom to ask and our chances of getting what we want are greatly increased.”
4. Say “thank you.” Be thankful whether the response is a yes or no because, in the end, they did give you something, their time.
Response to a no: “That’s fine! I appreciate your time nonetheless. Thank you!”
Response to a yes: “Thank you so much! I really appreciate you taking the time to help me.”
Perhaps you’re currently in a situation where help would be very useful. Just ask!
If You Need Something, Just Ask by Francis Flynn [Youtube]
Francis Flynn Homepage
If You Want Something You Have to Ask For It
It’s Okay to Ask For Help
Asking For Help and Why I Struggle With It
Why Is Asking for Help So Difficult?
Small Steps, Big Leaps Briefing: The Science of Getting People to Do the Right Thing